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The ATO has lifted the lid on its most recent operation to stamp out GST fraud, Operation Protego, to warn the business community not to engage with fraudulent behaviour and to encourage those who may have fallen into a criminal’s trap to make a voluntary disclosure.

Recently, the ATO has seen a rise in the number of schemes where people invent fake businesses in order to submit fictitious business activity statements (BASs) and obtain illegal GST refunds. The amounts involved in these schemes are significant, with $20,000 being the average amount in fraudulently obtained GST refund payments. The ATO is currently investigating around $850 million in payments made to around 40,000 individuals, and is working with financial institutions that have frozen suspected fraudulent amounts in bank accounts.

It’s possible that not all of the individuals involved in these refund schemes know they’re doing something illegal. Ads for schemes falsely offering to help people obtain loans or government disaster payments from the ATO have been on the rise on social media platforms. But ever-changing content about all sorts of pandemic and disaster related support has become commonplace online, and many people don’t have detailed knowledge about all the requirements of Australian business and tax law. It’s really not surprising that it can be difficult to distinguish scam promotions from genuine support measures.

Tip: The ATO wants to make it clear that it does not offer loans or administer government disaster payments. Any advertisement indicating that the ATO does these things is a rort.

Government disaster payments are administered through Services Australia if they are Federal government payments, or through various state and territory government bodies if they are state or territory government payments.

Scheme promoters will also sometimes require individuals or businesses to hand over their myGov details. People who may have shared myGov login details for themselves or their businesses with scheme operators are encouraged to contact the ATO for assistance.

Taxpayers with aged debts that the ATO had paused collecting or put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic should be aware that offsetting aged debts against tax refunds or credits has now resumed. The aged debts can be offset either from ATO accounts or credits from other government agencies, although a debt will not be offset if the only available credit relates to a Family Tax Benefit amount.

Tip: “Aged debts” is a collective term the ATO uses for uneconomical non-pursued tax debts that it’s placed on hold and has not undertaken any recent action to collect. These debts don’t typically show up on taxpayers’ online accounts as an outstanding balance.

Usually when a debt is put on hold, the ATO notifies the taxpayer via a letter that the debt collection has been paused, although any credits the taxpayer is entitled to will be offset against the debt. The ATO reserves the right to re-raise the debt in the future, depending on the circumstances of the taxpayer. Letters were sent out in May 2022 to remind taxpayers that they have aged debts and June 2022 will see the recommencement of debt collection.

While most taxpayers (or their tax agents) should have received their aged debts letter by now, some may not have received anything, due to a change of address or patchiness in the postal service. The first clue for them that they may have an aged debt could be when they notice that their refund is less than expected or a credit on one account is less than it should be.

To avoid surprises, if you’re unsure whether you have an aged debt you can check ATO Online Services for a transaction with the description “non-pursuit” on your statement of account. If you have multiple accounts (for example, a business and an individual account), remember to check them all.

While Single Touch Payroll (STP) entered Phase 2 on 1 January 2022, many employers might not yet be reporting the additional information required under this phase because their digital service providers (DSPs) have deferrals for time to get their software ready and help their customers transition. However, once these deferrals expire, employers will need to start reporting additional information in their payroll software.

TIP: Essentially, STP works by sending tax and super information from an STP-enabled payroll or accounting software solution directly to the ATO when the payroll is run.

Entering STP Phase 2 means that additional information which may not be currently stored in some employers’ payroll systems needs to be reported through the payroll software. For example, while many newer businesses may have employee start date information handy, older businesses may have trouble finding exact records, particularly for long-serving employees. In those instances, a default commencement date of 01/01/1800 can be reported.

Employers need to report either a TFN or an ABN for each payee included in STP Phase 2 reports. Where a TFN isn’t available, a TFN exemption code must be used. If a payee is a contractor and an employee within the same financial year, both their ABN and their TFN must be reported.

Employers also need to report the basis of employment according to work type. That is, whether an individual is full-time, part-time, casual, labour hired, has a voluntary agreement, is a death beneficiary, or is a non-employee. The report generated for STP Phase 2 includes a six-character tax treatment code for each employee, which is a shortened way of indicating to the ATO how much should be withheld from their payments. Most STP solutions will automatically report these codes, but it’s a good idea to understand what the codes are to ensure that they’re correct.

Income and allowances are also further drilled down – instead of reporting a single gross amount of an employee’s income, employers need to separately report on their gross income, paid leave, allowances, overtime, bonuses, directors’ fees, return to work payments and salary sacrifice amounts.

If your DSP has a deferral in place, you don’t need to apply for your own deferral and will only need to start reporting STP Phase 2 information from your next pay run after your DSP’s deferral expires. However, if your business needs more time in addition to your DSP’s deferral, you can apply for your own deferral using ATO Online Services.

Tax time 2022 is fast approaching, and this financial year, the ATO will again be focusing on a few key areas to ensure Australians are doing the right thing and paying the right amount of tax.

Like last year, the ATO recommends that people wait until the end of July to lodge their tax returns, rather than rushing to lodge at the beginning of July. This is because much of the pre-fill information will become available later in the month, making it easier to ensure all income and deductions are reported correctly the first time. People who lodge early often forget to include information about interest from banks, dividend income and payments from government agencies and private health insurers.

While the ATO receives and matches information on rental income, foreign sourced income and capital gains, not all of that information will be pre-filled for individuals, so it’s important to ensure you include it all as well.

Some of the traditional areas the ATO is focusing on this year include record-keeping, work-related expenses and rental property income and deductions, as well as capital gains from property and shares.

Any deductions you claim must be backed by evidence – people who deliberately attempt to increase their refunds by falsifying records or don’t have evidence to substantiate their claims will be subject to “firm action”.

For people who are working from home or in hybrid working arrangements and claim related expenses, the ATO will be expecting to see a corresponding reduction in other expenses you claim, such as car, clothing, parking and tolls expenses.

With the intense flooding earlier this year, some rental property owners may have received insurance payouts. These, along with other income received such as retained bonds or short-term rental arrangement income, need to be reported.

Lastly, the ATO’s keeping a close eye on people selling property, shares and cryptocurrency, including non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Any capital gains need to be included in your tax return so you pay the right tax on them. But if you’ve recently sold out of cryptocurrency assets you may have a capital loss, which can’t be offset against other income such as salary and wages, only against other capital gains.

Because of the financial impacts of COVID-19, trustees of a self managed superannuation fund (SMSF), or a related party of the fund, may provide or accept certain types of relief, which may give rise to contraventions of the super laws. Some trustees may also have been stranded overseas because of travel bans, which can affect their fund’s residency status.

In recognition of these issues, the ATO is offering support and relief to SMSF trustees for the 2019–2020, 2020–2021 and 2021–2022 income years.

 

This generally includes not taking any compliance action against an SMSF and not requiring the SMSF auditor to report related contraventions in the following areas:

  • where an SMSF trustee or a related party of the SMSF offered rental relief to a tenant due to COVID-19;

Tip: Temporary changes to a lease agreement for rental relief need to be properly documented, together with the reasons for those changes. A formal variation of the lease may need to be executed.

  • where a plan to get the value of SMSF’s in-house asset holdings below 5% of the fund’s total assets couldn’t be executed in time because of COVID-19;
  • where a fund offered loan repayment relief because the borrower was experiencing difficulty repaying the loan because of COVID-19;
  • where a fund no longer satisfies the residency rules because the trustee/s were stranded overseas for an extended period; and
  • where a fund has a limited recourse borrowing arrangement (LRBA) with a related party lender, and the lender offered COVID-19 loan repayment relief to the fund.

Trustees must properly document all of these sorts of relief and provide their approved SMSF auditor with evidence to support it for the purposes of the annual SMSF audit.

The ATO is urging people and businesses to be vigilant following an increase in reports of fake websites offering to provide tax file numbers (TFN) and Australian business numbers (ABN) for a fee, but failing to provide those services.

The fake TFN and ABN services are often advertised on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The scammers use the fraudulent websites they advertise to steal both money and personal information.

Tip: The ATO and Australian Business Register (ABR) do not charge fees for providing a TFN or an ABN. It’s free, quick and easy to use government services online to apply for a TFN through the ATO, or apply for an ABN through the ABR.

The ATO is also still seeing scammers impersonating the ATO, making threats, demanding the payment of fake tax debts or claiming a TFN has been “suspended” due to fraud.

In 2021, more than 50,000 people reported various ATO impersonation scams, with victims losing a total of more than $800,000.

Tips to protect yourself from scammers

  • Know your tax affairs – You will be notified about your tax debt before it is due. Check if you have a legitimate debt by logging into your myGov account or calling your tax agent. Find the contact details for the ATO or your tax agent independently by searching online or using your own paper records – don’t trust details provided by possible scammers.
  • Guard your personal and financial information – Be careful when clicking on links, downloading files or opening attachments. Only give your personal information to people you trust and don’t share it on social media.
  • If you’re not sure, don’t engage – If a call, SMS or email leaves you wondering if it’s genuine, don’t reply. You can phone the ATO’s dedicated scam line on 1800 008 540 to check if it is legitimate. You can also verify or report a scam online at www.ato.gov.au/scams and visit ScamWatch at www.scamwatch.gov.au to get information about scams (not just tax scams).
  • Know legitimate ways to make payments – Scammers may use threatening tactics to trick you into paying fake debts via unusual methods. For example, they might demand pre-paid gift cards or transfers to non-ATO bank accounts. To check that a payment method is legitimate, visit www.ato.gov.au/howtopay.

FBT is generally seen as a relatively slow-moving and quiet area of tax law. But Budget day this year saw some movement at the FBT station, specifically regarding COVID-19 tests provided to staff, and also car parking benefits.

RATs for employees

The 2022–2023 Federal Budget included a measure, now passed into law, to make costs for taking a COVID-19 test to attend their workplace tax-deductible for individuals from 1 July 2021.

COVID-19 tests, including rapid antigen tests (RATs), provided by employers to employees are considered benefits under the FBT regime.

However, by allowing for an individual tax deduction, the new measure also allows for the operation of the “otherwise deductible” rule to reduce the taxable value of the benefit to zero. By introducing a specific individual income tax deduction, employers would also not have to pay FBT.

Neat solution. Well, apart from the catch: employee-level declarations could be required when the provision of a RAT is a property fringe benefit (that is, legal ownership of the item passes from the employer to the employee).

Where a RAT is provided as an expense reimbursement or residual benefit, an employer-level declaration is available (that is, one declaration signed by the public officer on behalf of each employing entity lodging an FBT return to declare that there is no private use).

In case collecting hundreds or thousands of employee-level paper declarations is not how you’d like to spend your time, we see three options at this stage:

  • assess the potential application of the minor benefit rule to your situation;
  • explore your policy and processes to determine whether the benefit provided could meet an exemption or documentation exception; and
  • use an automated, electronic declaration tool to take some pain out of the process.

 “Commercial parking station” definition

As a reminder:

  • a car parking fringe benefit can only arise where the employee parks their car for at least four hours during a daylight period in an employer-provided space in the vicinity of the principal workplace;
  • there must be a commercial parking station that charges more than a threshold amount (currently $9.25) for all-day parking within one kilometre of the entrance to the employer’s car park; and
  • “all-day parking” means parking continuously for at least six hours between 7 am and 7 pm.

The scope of the term “commercial parking station” is therefore fundamental to determining if an employer has taxable car parking benefits.

Broadly, a commercial parking station is one where car parking spaces are, for payment of a fee, available in the ordinary course of business to members of the public for all-day parking.

The ATO issued a ruling in 2021 that no longer applied the interpretation that car parking facilities with a primary purpose other than providing all-day parking (usually charging significantly higher rates) are not commercial parking stations. This was to apply from 1 April 2022.

In effect, this would bring facilities like shopping centre car parks and hospital car parks into the definition of a “commercial parking station”. For employers with only that type of parking within a one-kilometre radius, the consequences were significant, potentially bringing previously non-taxable employer-provided car parking within the scope of FBT.

The Federal Government has announced it will be undertaking consultation with the intent of restoring the previously understood application of FBT to car parking fringe benefits, which is closer to the original policy intent of the car parking FBT provisions. The readjusted definition would then apply from 1 April 2022 instead.

For many businesses, the line between employees and contractors is becoming increasingly blurred, partly due to the rise of the gig economy. However, businesses should be careful, as incorrectly classifying employees as contractors may be illegal and expose the business to various penalties and charges.

Recently, the High Court handed down a significant decision in a case involving the distinction between employees and contractors. In the case, a labourer had signed an Administrative Services Agreement (ASA) with a labour hire company to work as a “self-employed contractor” on various construction sites. The Full Federal Court had initially held that the labourer was an independent contractor after applying a “multifactorial” approach by reference to the terms of the ASA, among other things. The High Court, however, overturned that decision and held that the labourer was an employee of the labour hire company.

The High Court held that the critical question was whether the supposed employee performed work while working in the business of the engaging entity. That is, whether the worker performed their work in the labour hire firm’s business or in an enterprise or business of their own.

As a result of the decision, the ATO has said it will review relevant rulings, including super guarantee rulings on work arranged by intermediaries and who is an employee, as well as income tax rulings in the areas of PAYG withholding and the identification of employer for tax treaties.

From 1 July 2022, people aged between 67 and 75 will be able to make non-concessional and salary-sacrificed contributions to their superannuation without the need to pass the work test or satisfy the work test exemption criteria. The removal of the work test from that date also allows people aged under 75 to access the bring-forward of non-concessional contributions in some cases, which may allow you to access up to three times the annual non-concessional contributions cap in a single year. Personal contributions will also be affected, although now instead of having to pass the work test to contribute, the work test only applies if a deduction is sought.

These changes are designed to provide older Australians with more flexibility to contribute to their super and add to their comfort in retirement.

Contribution caps will still apply to any contributions made to your super.

To pass the work test, an individual must be gainfully employed for at least 40 hours during a consecutive 30-day period in each income year in which contributions were made. It’s an annual test, which means that once it is met, the individual can make contributions for that entire income year.

Tip: If you’re between the ages of 67 and 75, now is the perfect time put a plan in place to grow your super. Contact us to find out more about how you can take advantage of these changes.

To help those nearing retirement boost their super balances, people aged 65 and over can currently make downsizer contributions to their super of up to $300,000 from the proceeds of the sale of their home.

Tip: Downsizer contributions don’t count towards the super contribution caps, but do count towards the transfer balance cap, which applies when your super is moved into the retirement phase.

As part of a suite of measures introduced to provide more flexibility for those contributing to super, from 1 July 2022 the age limit for those making downsizer contributions will be decreased to include individuals aged 60 years or over. Optimistically, the government expects this decrease in the age threshold will encourage more older Australians to downsize sooner and “[free] up the stock of larger homes for younger families”.

If you or your spouse are thinking of selling the family home to capture a premium, especially in regional areas, some other criteria must be satisfied so you can to make a downsizer contribution to your super, including:

  • the location of the home must be in Australia;
  • the home must have been owned by your or your spouse for at least 10 years;
  • the home must not be a caravan, houseboat or other mobile home;
  • the disposal must be exempt or partially exempt from CGT under the main residence exemption; and
  • a previous downsizer contribution must not have been made from the sale of another home or from the part sale of the current home.

Each person individual can make the maximum contribution of $300,000, so for a couple a total contribution of $600,000 can be made. However, the total contribution amount cannot be greater than the total proceeds from the sale of the home. If a home is owned only by one spouse and is sold, the spouse who didn’t have ownership can also make a downsizer contribution or have one made on their behalf, provided all other requirements are met.

The maximum amount that individuals can take out of their superannuation under the First Home Super Saver Scheme (FHSS) will be increased to $50,000 for any release requests made on or after 1 July 2022. The scheme was originally envisaged as a tax-effective way for first home buyers to save for a deposit, and the increase in the maximum releasable amount presumably reflects the rapidly escalating housing price increases. The scheme is available to both first home buyers and those intending to build their first home, subject to certain conditions of occupation.

The first step in releasing eligible funds is to obtain a FHSS Determination from the ATO which sets out the maximum amount that an individual can have released under the scheme. It’s imperative to make sure you’ve finished making all your voluntary contributions under the scheme before applying for a Determination, and of course, to check the accuracy of the Determination issued by the ATO.

There is a limit of $15,000 of eligible contributions that can be released each financial year (up to a total limit of $30,000 currently, or $50,000 from 1 July 2022).

TIP: To access part your super under the scheme, you must have a FHSS Determination from the ATO before any contract to purchase or build is signed.

When you have a FHSS Determination and subsequently sign a contract to purchase, a valid release request must be given to the ATO within 14 days. After the release of money, if you haven’t signed a contract to purchase or construct a home within 12 months, the ATO will generally grant an extension for a further 12 months automatically. You also have the choice to recontribute the amount back into your super fund, or to keep the money and pay a flat 20% tax on assessable FHSS released amounts.

If you run a small business and are found by the ATO to have made unintentional record-keeping mistakes, you could face having to pay an administrative penalty. However, this could soon change under a proposed new law that would give ATO the power to issue a direction to complete an approved record-keeping education course instead. Legislation to implement this measure has been introduced into Parliament but not yet passed.

This proposed change originated as a part of the Black Economy Taskforce’s final report, which found that tax-related record-keeping obligations should be made clearer for businesses, and that the ATO should have a range of administrative sanctions available at its discretion for breaches of the rules.

Under the proposed new law, the ATO may issue a tax-records education direction in appropriate situations, which will require the appropriate person within a business to take a specified, approved course of education and provide the ATO with evidence of completion. This would be applied in circumstances where the record-keeping mistakes were unintentional, due to knowledge gaps or variations in levels of digital literacy, or where the ATO reasonably believes that the entity has made a genuine attempt to comply with their obligations.

The tax-records education direction would not be available to businesses that deliberately avoid record-keeping obligations. In those cases, financial penalties will still be applied, and if there is evidence of serious non-compliance, the ATO may also consider criminal sanctions.